Friday, January 29, 2016

A Green Flower Bud

Above was my world about a week ago. Today, the sun shone and all of the white stuff has been gone for days. I worked outdoors with just a light, long sleeved shirt and jeans.

My first order of business in the garden today was to open all of the low tunnels and see if anything had survived the bitter cold of the previous couple of weeks. Before the first weekend of single-digit temperatures, I had opened all of the low tunnels and tucked everything snugly beneath heavy blankets -- all that seemed like it might be worth saving.

I expected not to find much, especially since we experienced one morning at -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Brr. Not only had we experienced some real cold, but the plants had been hidden from sunlight for about two weeks.

What I found was some unhappy, but still living plants. The small cabbages were more damaged by humidity and a previous bout with aphids than the cold. One young radicchio had begun to rot, but all the rest looked like they would grow out of any damage. Some seemed unfazed. The small lettuces looked good enough, but I doubt they will go anywhere, so they won't be saved. Even the celery looked alive.

Pretty green flower buds.
And the broccoli was mostly still alive, the dozen or so plants I let stand after clearing things a few weeks ago. I pulled some of them that look too wilted and left the rest, even though the forecast calls for temps in the teens -- and more snow -- next week. We'll see whether they produce again. It's an experiment. The purple sprouting broccoli, a one plant test, was still alive, even though it did not have the benefit of the extra blanket. Minus 4 with just a thin plastic cover, brrr! It's larger leaves were burned, but the smaller ones seemed fresh enough. I let it stand. It's weathered some pretty deep chill, it deserves a chance.

Some other broccoli plants look a bit better. They are seedlings I started just a week ago, sitting under lights in my "sun room." Thirty-two 2-inch pots each boasting multiple seedlings. I never put just one seed per pot. At some point I will thin them down to one, perhaps two, seedlings per pot. I'm counting on at least 32 healthy broccoli seedlings to plant out in March. My second job today was to continue clearing the beds where the broccoli and cabbages will get planted in less than two months.

Thirty-two is 50 percent more broccoli plants than I put in last spring. I'm counting on lots of broccoli, because we're eating even more of it now. I've always liked broccoli, and it has always been a staple in my freezer. But it has now shoved kale and collards off our plates, becoming the main green vegetable we eat. Oh, don't worry, we're still eating kale, but broccoli is queen of green.

Broccoli contains tons of nutrition and supports all phases of the body's detoxification process. Kale, cabbage and all those other brassicas also are full of nutrition, as well as making for healthy hearts, offering us antioxidants and serving as anti-inflammatories, as well as supporting our body's detoxing. But only broccoli supports all phases of detoxification. That's why we are eating more of it. Our bodies are besieged every day by numerous toxic substances, some we take on purpose and are considered "beneficial" (like medicinal drugs). They do provide a benefit, but our body breaks them down into toxic substances, then breaks them down again to clear them out. The same thing occurs with things like hormones that our bodies produce.

While its health benefits are the reason we're eating more broccoli, we were eating it in the first place because it tastes so good. Steamed until just tender and dressed with oil or butter and some ground flax -- quite the treat, if you ask me. Please don't blaspheme this tasty treat with cheese sauce!

I protect my broccoli with row cover.
What we eat of the broccoli are large clusters of immature flower buds and the thick stems that support them. If you fail to cut your broccoli before it sends up stalks of yellow flowers, go ahead and eat the flowers. Toss them into the nearest salad.
When any of the brassica family sends up flower stalks, the small clusters of flower buds look much like tiny, loose broccoli heads and are edible, too.
Once the main "head" is cut, the broccoli plant starts producing smaller side shoots. Spring-planted broccoli will continue to produce side shoots well into the summer. However, the heads that form in warm weather are not nearly as tasty and sweet as those that form in much cooler weather. (It also opens yellow flowers more quickly when it's warm.) So I plant broccoli in fall, too, even though I don't get as much production.

So, broccoli, I love it. It grows fairly easily -- the seeds I started last week put up tiny leaves in three days. It does like fairly fertile soil and regular watering, as do all its relations. Many varieties of broccoli exist, most of them hybrids, although you can find a few open pollinated varieties, if that is important to you. I think that the two varieties I planted this spring are open pollinated -- Di Cicco (fer sure) and Nutribud (maybe). I planted those because I purchased large packets of them a while ago and I want to use up the seed. The seed is seven years old and still showed a high germination rate. If you're stocking seed for the zombie apocalypse, stock up on brassicas. Long live their seeds!

Broccoli and its siblings have two main pests, the imported cabbage white butterfly and the cabbage looper (a moth, I believe). Both fluttery winged things lay eggs that hatch into voracious green caterpillars that consume your broccoli plants. I protect mine with floating row cover. If you don't want to put the frothy white stuff in your garden, get some Bt (an organic, naturally occurring toxin that mainly affects moth and butterfly larvae) and spray the broccoli well once a week. For me, the row cover is easier.

Broccoli. Eat it. Grow it. Love it.
Give your love some for Valentine's Day. Rosebuds aren't nearly as nutritious.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hunkering Down

Me fanning myself coquettishly with a large brussels sprouts leaf (Falstaff is the variety). No, I'm not barefoot.
On Saturday I harvested the last of the brussels sprouts -- we actually got a few "sprouts" (aka "knobs") this time around. Some of them were nice and large and firm, although most were large and loose or tight and tiny. But I'm making progress.

Even when the knobs refuse to form, planting brussels sprouts is worthwhile, as the leaves are a fine and tasty green with more substance than kale. Once we had several freezing nights and cool days, the leaves took on an incredible sweetness. I must say that they are my favorite green. The knobs are just a bonus. Next year I will try amending the soil with just a bit of boron (a sprinkling of borax, which you can find in the store among all the laundry and household cleaners, right next to the washing soda). This fall someone speaking on organic gardening said that brussels sprouts were the only vegetable that responded to boron amendment. So maybe that's my missing ingredient. We'll see.

Brussels sprouts from a previous year.
I started the brussels sprouts indoors in early June, setting the transplants out in the garden about mid-July. Besides adding a little boron, I'll also try setting the plants farther apart. Thirty-six inches was the recommended distance on a Web site I saw today. About mid-October I "topped" the plants, cutting off the growing tip (and eating the small, tender leaves that topped the plant) to spur knob formation. That is supposed to be done about 30 days before you expect to harvest the sprouts. It took mine longer than that, obviously. I started harvesting greens, mainly from the lower portion of the plant, once they looked ready to start "knobbing." When I set out the transplants, I also planted seed of a green variety just for the greens, so I had a few green brussels sprouts leaves, as well as the lovely red Falstaff ones.

Brussels sprouts can stand, unprotected, in the the garden until the temperatures start falling below 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Mine had been protected from marauding insects by row cover (suspended by the PVC pipe hoops visible in the photo) and when the night time temps started falling into the 20s I added a second layer of row cover, probably not necessary, but I was surprised by a couple of nights when it fell to 19.

Other vegetables grew under plastic, once the daytime temperatures stopped routinely exceeding 60 degrees, which was sometime in mid- or late November. We even had 50s and 60s for a good part of December. But that's changing. At this moment large snowflakes are falling and the temperature hasn't yet hit 30 degrees, although it is mid-afternoon. In two days, the low is supposed to hit 10 degrees F (approximately -12 degrees Celsius).

So I spent Saturday preparing for real winter (finally). Along with harvesting the brussels sprouts, I pulled back the plastic on all of the other winter beds to see if anything else was ready to pick. Before replacing the plastic I pulled blankets over everything, hoping that would keep things snug and alive. One small cabbage was ready, and one little radicchio, as well as some small lettuce, purple mustard and arugula. The big surprise was the broccoli, which I had not looked at for at least a week.

When I last opened the broccoli tunnel, I stripped all of the leaves off of several plants (although not as tasty as brussels sprouts greens, they're good for putting in soups and curries, etc.), as well as cutting any small florets. The main bunches of florets had been picked weeks earlier. Imagine my surprise on Saturday when I discovered that more florets had formed, even on a couple of the plants that had been completely stripped. The leaves looked ragged and perhaps had evidence of some disease, but they had formed florets, in spite of some chilly nights and short days. So I pulled the blankets over them and if they survive this coming week, I'll see whether they continue making florets.

Under another plastic tunnel stands one lone plant of purple sprouting broccoli, which was bred to stand through winter and offer an early spring harvest. We'll see how that does. The garden is always just one big experiment.

For now I'll just watch the snow blow and look forward to roasting my homegrown brussels sprouts, or steaming up some of their greens, or the little broccoli florets. When it thaws again I'll check under the layers and see how the veggies are doing in their snug little beds.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Showing Off, just a little

Perfect Pears deliciously dehydrated.
A while back I mentioned that I had taken advantage of some sunny weather to dry pears that were quickly ripening in the refrigerator (see "Pears to Perfection," 10/26-15) and a friend of mine asked if I had any photos of the finished product.

Spicy red dried cayennes ready for chili.
I didn't then, but I do now. Actually, I've had the photos for a while and just haven't gotten around to posting them as I had promised. I've also decided to post a few photos of some other preserved goodies. Just for kicks.

The pears, peppers, tomatoes, and even most of the herbs were dried in the solar powered dehydrator that my husband built two or three years ago. I've loved this dehydrator, although I would change a couple of things, if I could. I would prefer one in which the drying trays were level, instead of slanted, as some things tend to slide. And I'd have more trays on which to dry things. A multi-level dehydrator would be awesome.

But this is the one I've got. (See my "Solar Powered Food" post for photos and more) And I love using it.
Sun-dried tomatoes. Sweet and sticky.

One thing I learned this year is that really hot, sunny days can create a bit too much heat for drying herbs. They dried better later in the year when the days were shorter and the temperatures a bit cooler.

Tomatoes are always tricky because they are so juicy. They need at least three hot, super sunny days to dry without any one of them molding. So I always check the weather forecast before putting the tomatoes out to dry. However, several times the day would start cloudy and stay that way, in spite of a sunny forecast. Next year, I will wait until I actually see clear skies before getting the tomatoes ready to dry. Less juicy things can tolerate less than perfect drying conditions.
Kimchi, full of good bugs for the belly,

As you all know (if you've been reading this blog) I've become a fermenting fool this fall. Green tomatoes, green beans, long beans -- nothing is safe from the fermenting brine. I've also mastered the art of fermenting kimchi -- at least one of the hundreds of kinds of kimchi -- using Chinese cabbage and daikon, as well as any other available veggie.

Chinese cabbage still stands in the garden and has even produced flower stalks. So it is time to take it out. I plan to make an Oriental style soup and maybe some more kimchi. It's become our favorite of the ferments... except for the pickled green tomatoes, that is.

We'll never look at a green tomato with a sigh of disdain again. All we'll be thinking is "pickled green delights." Even the little Sun Gold tomatoes got turned into green pickles. I put them into the brine whole, including some half ripe ones for a little yellow color.

Don't they look pretty in the pickle jar?

Green and half-ripe Sun Gold tomato pickles.
Perhaps you are tired of reading about my fermenting fun. I am sure the newness will wear off eventually and I'll move on to writing about something else. But not yet. Right now I've got daikons fermenting. Shredded daikon went into the 2-gallon crock for a kimchi-like ferment, using a paste of ginger, garlic, hot peppers and apple (horseradish went into the daikon kimchi) mixed with the daikon and some salt. I wanted to do the kimchi style because it is less salty than vegetables fermented in brine.

However, I also made some daikon pickles, cutting the giant white radishes into sticks, adding seasonings and covering with brine. You'll read about it later, I'm sure.

For now, just enjoy these photos of my preserved produce. I don't like to show off, really, I don't. But my friend did ask for a picture of my pears.

Be careful what you wish for.

One last photo: Jars and tins full of dried herbs; for tea mostly, but some for seasonings, as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ice and Then Not-Ice

Thanksgiving day began a series of damp, dreary and cold days, with rain and freezing rain, a little sleet and perhaps a bit of snow mixed in. (I know, I know. It's been almost two weeks since Thanksgiving, but hey, Life...)

Fortunately we escaped the worst of the freezing rain. Because the weather had been in the 50s most days prior to the rain, no ice stuck to the roads. It did, however, form a crust on the chipped wood garden paths (if you look closely, you can see deep prints of deer hooves).

The wooden railing by the stairs outside our back door also developed an icy coat, making it more treacherous to hang onto the railing rather than to trust your footing on the stone steps, which had less ice on them,

Multiple drops of rain froze onto the still green dill plants (above), creating multiple jewel-like beads on the fine leaves.

Trees collected a little ice, but not enough to bring down branches, unlike to the west of me, where fallen tree limbs and power outages were common.

A couple of days before the rain, I took the row cover off all of the beds where broccoli, lettuce and other fall/winter veggies still grow, planning to put plastic, suspended by PVC pipe "hoops," over them as protection from further winter weather. Since it had been a pretty dry fall, a waited so that the rain would dampen the soil and the plants could head into winter with a good drink. Puddles formed in the large leaves of broccoli plants, which became puddles of ice highlighting the veins of the deep green leaves.

From Thursday through Monday the weather was damp and chill.

Today we enjoy balmy weather in the 60s (Fahrenheit). The plastic low tunnels have been vented, to alleviate the excess heat that builds up on sunny, warm days. From icy to balmy. You never know just what to expect here. At least our wood supply is decreasing slowly. It will be more than enough for the winter. I just hope winter doesn't decide to stay late.

Just one more... Ice beading and pooling on the Chinese cabbage, which has made delicious kimchi.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Green Stuff

Roasted green tomatoes ready for the freezer.
Tomato season ended a couple of weeks ago with the first frosty night. That day I went through the garden harvesting anything usable from the most frost-sensitive plants and ended up with a large basket of green tomatoes.

You already know this because of my fermentation post. Many of those tomatoes were covered in brine and left to sit for a week or so. Very fine fermented food. One shelf in our second refrigerator is filled with jars of fermented vegetables, and I'm still fermenting. A crock of kimchi ripens at this very moment. Right no w I'm waiting for my first ever batch of homemade yogurt to finish fermenting. Next week I'll mix daikon radish with horseradish, and maybe garlic and jalapenos for a clear-your-sinuses sort of pickle.

Anyway, I've already done a fermentation post. This one is titled "Green Stuff." So, green. Green tomatoes. The green tomato pickles are probably our favorite of the fermented vegetables, with lots of good-guy bugs for the belly.

Fermentation isn't the only thing you can do with green tomatoes.
Forget battered and fried. Forget piccalilli (a corrupted form of a spicy East Indian fermented vegetable relish that probably never even whispered to a green tomato). Don't mock mom's apple pie.
Try roasting.

Most of the green tomatoes that didn't get fermented got roasted. Maybe one of us also made another green-tomato curry with a few, but some got roasted. The same as I roast pretty much any vegetable: Place in shallow glass baking dish; drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, or (if I'm feeling decadent) butter or ghee; place in 350- to 400-degree oven until it looks done -- 1 to 2 hours for really juicy stuff like tomatoes shorter for other things. You'll know when it's done.

I packed the roasted green tomatoes into wide mouth pint jars and stuck them in the freezer for later. Last week I pulled out one of those jars and a jar of roasted ripe tomatoes and made a yummy Moroccan style dish. A few of the green tomatoes also got roasted along with the last of the tomatillos and some garlic to make a nice salsa verde.

Four tasty, yummy things to do with green tomatoes that have nothing to do with battering and frying, or mocking mom's apple pie. No one will ever get a green tomato from me again.

On that first frosty night I covered the bell pepper and hot pepper plants because they had so many green fruits on them. I love bell peppers -- red, yellow, orange or whatever color they ripen to. I'm not so keen on the green. But after about a week, I got tired of trying to keep the peppers popping. The plants looked pooped, anyway. A few peppers had some color and I knew they'd ripen on the counter. But what to do with the green ones?
OK, roast them, too.
My husband started cutting up the green bells for the roasting pan and tasted a few in the process. He was skeptical that roasting would improve them much. He gave me a few bites; they were a bit bitter but not obnoxiously so. Still, there is a reason that I like to let my bells ripen. He got ready to compost the whole lot, but I convinced him to keep a few and roast them. I planned to roast some squash or something in a few day, anyway, so I wouldn't be wasting oven heat for just a few peppers.
The roasting took any bitter greenness right out of the peppers, which also got packed into jars for the freezer. We put some of them in our salads. Nice. Now we regret the peppers in the compost.

In that final pepper fury I also found myself in possession of a pile of green jalapeno peppers. Now what... that's right... roast 'em.

Next year I'll also try fermenting the green bells, probably in a vegetable medley. The jalapenos, both red and green, got put in many of the ferments to give them a little extra bite. The possibilities are endless.
Too much green? Nonsense!

Monday, November 9, 2015


The purple-blossomed campanula has released its green into the earth and sky, showing colors hidden during summer's sunlight.

We have such trouble letting go, releasing our hold on things. But take note of the trees. They have released their leaves to the earth, revealing the beauty of their twiggy bones. They do not cling and weep, expressing regret. They simply let go.

The goldenrod, sunflower and aster release their seeds to the wind and earth. This is their purpose, to let go.

And so the gardener in tune with the season releases her harvests of tomatoes, peppers and other summer vegetables. She packs away the final harvests and lets go of the flurry of summer. She lets go and finds beauty in the release. She finds herself breathing. She pauses often in her tasks, which no longer have a hurried pace. She sits and sings lullabies to the descending sun.

It's time to let go.
Let go.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

This is the End...

Eggplant leaves take their final bow after the freeze.
We celebrate Spring and the robust new life that arises.
We celebrate Summer and its chaos of growing things.
We celebrate Autumn and the bounteous harvest.
We dread Winter and the receding of the green.
Hops flowers dried on the vine.

We celebrate green leaves, freshly opened flowers and apples swelling on the tree.

But this is the time of withering. Of seeding. This is the time for rest.
Beauty lies in the arms of decay.
Leaves expose their glorious colors only when life recedes from them and the trees release their hold.
Winter brings rest.
Celebrate the beauty in the withering forms, art created by decline, as well as the recent freeze.
Celebrate the wholeness of the cycling of Life, and Nature's creativity within.

These withered cupplants have stood like ancestral guardians over the wildflower bed since early October.
The path meanders through the Seasons.